And why wouldn't he? As a player (1980-83), his squads went 4-0 against KU. They outscored the Jayhawks by a combined 204-28. I'll save you the trouble: that's an average score of 51-7.
His coaching career wasn't much different. Turner Gill saw his alma
mater go 13-0 against the hapless Jayhawks with an average margin of
victory of 30.5 points during his tenure an assistant to Bugeater
legend Dr. Tom Osborne,
So when Mark Mangino resigned as KU coach last December, Gill was eager
to learn more about the position – and not just so he could reminisce
about those annual beat-downs. Every time the 'Husker team bus stopped
in Lawrence, he thought about the tremendous football potential KU had.
"I remember thinking, this would be a good place to coach," Gill
recalled. "You saw a beautiful campus; you sensed that it was just a
great town. So, it was always in the back of my mind that if the
opportunity presented itself, this would be something I'd seriously
He did more than consider it; he jumped at it. Gill was announced as
KU's new head coach December 13th. Since then, things have been, well,
different around the Anderson Football Complex.
Gill smiles, and it's contagious. He's good at it. He does it a lot.
Positivity radiates from the 1983 Heisman Trophy runner-up. Hand him
lemons; he makes lemonade. Throw him in a room full of horse manure;
he'll look for the pony.
Everything he says sound like a great idea. Gill's voice has an edge, a
passion to it. Not the kind of passion that makes a vein pop out on his
forehead; it's the kind of passion you want to be a part of. And right
now, he'll tell anyone who'll listen how excited he is about being the
head coach at Kansas.
The biggest change, however, may be the new approach taken by the head
coach when it comes to people. Gill's style is markedly different than
the one to which KU fans had become accustomed, and it's intended to
extend off the field into the training room, into the classroom and
onto wherever life may take the young men who come to play for him.
"As we look at society – and this isn't just about football – when we
talk about getting people to perform on a consistent basis, you have to
get to know them in a deeper way. We need to know why they are the way
they are, so we need to ask deeper questions," Gill said.
Could it be that Gill was talking about...relationships? With his
Yep. And then some.
"Tom Osborne taught me all about building relationships with people.
Not only players but, really, the support staff: the sports performance
people, trainers, administrative assistants, the equipment people, the
video people," Gill explained. "Let them know how valued they are and
why they are (valued). He taught me all about making sure that everyone
who has an opportunity to make an impact on your student-athletes knows
(they're valued). All the X's and O's, I took from (Osborne), but more
importantly, I learned how to take care of people."
The new coach has some very definite ideas on how he and his coaches
are going to bring this about.
"When you say 'building relationships,' it's about listening," Gill
said. "We're going to take the time (to listen), as a coaching staff.
We want our players and our staff to come and see us. We are available,
and we are approachable."
Once the team starts to meet on a regular basis, players are going to
stand up in front of their teammates, introduce themselves and, in
Gill's words, "let everyone know who you are."
"I'm going to ask questions. One question I would have them answer is,
'Tell us who's the most influential person in your life and why?' By
doing that, we're going to get to know who this person in a deeper
Gill asserts that once student-athletes get to know each other on more
than a superficial level, they'll find that they have more in common
than they have differences, regardless of the diversity of their
"We all know, the first thing we look for are the differences in
people," he said. "You're always looking at the outside: parents or
where they came from or things of that nature.
"But once (a player) starts telling his story," the coach continued,
"then you understand him in a better way, and now we're connected.
We're not trying to pull ourselves apart; we're trying to pull
And it's not an exercise for just the players; the coaches are going to
do it, too.
"We're gonna talk. We're gonna have a good dialogue, a good
conversation. Every day, we're gonna take five or 10 minutes to have a
student-athlete or a coach stand up and talk about the how's and the
why's," Gill said.
In an era when the label "player's coach" gets bandied about, all this
relationship stuff may sound like fluff. It isn't for Gill, though.
This approach to players – to everyone – is part of who he is. If it
wasn't, he said, he wouldn't do it this way. This is how he did it at
the University of Buffalo, his previous coaching stop. The Bulls went
from one of the worst teams in the country to Mid-American Conference
champions in just three seasons under Gill.
"We did all those things, and it brought guys together," he said.
This is not, however, just about football. The three-time all-Big 8
quarterback is always looking at a much bigger picture.
"I'm trying to teach (student-athletes) about life, about marriage,
about relationships here on this earth besides football," Gill said,
the enthusiasm and passion in his voice kicking up a notch. "Obviously,
it's going to help us on the football field, but it's really going to
help us throughout our life."
Gill said he was pleased by the level of commitment KU had made to
football in recent years, but he wasn't shocked because of the man in
charge, Kansas athletics director Lew Perkins.
"(The commitment is) just great to see. It's about leadership: making a
commitment and knowing how important that is for the University of
Kansas and the State of Kansas and, of course, for our alumni," he said.
Gill is grateful to Perkins for the opportunity to coach at a great
school in a Bowl Championship Series conference. He's also eager to
work for his new boss.
"No question about it: I owe it all to him," the coach said. "We were
friends for about three years before this opportunity presented itself,
and (Perkins) was something of a mentor and a confidant."
The more people Gill talked to about Perkins, the more he knew that he
wanted to work for the Kansas AD.
"(Perkins) and I are very similar in our vision and what we love to do,
and ultimately, we're both all about the student-athlete."
Gill's glasses aren't so rose-colored, though, as to ignore the
elephant in the locker room. He's fully aware that he's put himself in
the center of what was a messy situation back in October and November.
He knows he's got work to do to, not only to snap a seven-game losing
streak on the field but to bring stability back to the program and
repair some burnt bridges off it. He plans to do this by bringing
leaders into the fold.
"No doubt, we've got to build some trust and confidence," Gill
acknowledged. "Obviously, you have to get some people with talent, but
you also have to get people who know how to lead. That's what we're
trying to do: bring in leaders, not followers. When they've been a
leader, they've got a better understanding of the big picture. Once
people start to understand the bigger picture, that's when people can
rise up and play extremely well and play with confidence and not
lookin' back. Always lookin' forward. You always have to have
confidence in your ability and your team and the program.
And what does he tell players who want to talk about problems with his
"I tell 'em to move on. It's that way in football; it's that way in
life. It you're dwelling on the past, you're slowing us down. This is a
new beginning, and I'm welcoming anyone who wants to move forward with
Those are meaningful words to players and staff who, just a few months
ago, were watching the wheels fall off a program for which history was
supposed to be waiting. Remember, though: it's never just about
football with Turner Gill. There's always more to it.
"That's our job: to help these young men be complete young men and
reach their full potential as young men. I take that all in the context
of being head football coach here at the University of Kansas.
"We're all connected as a nation and a society," Gill went on, "so we
have an obligation to train these young men the best we can not just in
football but for life. And that's what we're gonna do. That's what
we're all about."
JI Extra: A New Direction For KU
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